The sound of hundreds of footsteps echoed through Paddington Station on a hot August afternoon. Amidst the hustle and bustle of commuters and tourists, a young man glanced at the large clock on the wall before dashing to the taxi stand. He carried a weather-beaten laptop computer case and duffle bag, muttering apologies to people he jostled as he pelted along the walkway. He was rather unremarkable with the exception of two striking features: a shock of white cutting through his overly abundant (and quite untidy) black hair and a pair of green eyes the color of spring leaves.
"British Museum, please," he said as he gracefully leapt into the cab on the corner, "and please hurry, if you can." Harry Potter, Doctor of Philosophy in Physics and Astronomy from Oxford University, fumbled for and retrieved his pocket watch and groaned. "Way to stick your foot in it, Potter…late for your first guest lecture at the Museum," he muttered to himself. As one of the university's youngest doctoral candidates in decades, he had been awarded his degree only a few weeks prior and was given this opportunity by his mentor, Philip Elden-Winters, to present his dissertation to a number of Dr. Elden-Winters' esteemed colleagues.
As he rummaged through his duffle bag, he noticed that his suit jacket, trousers and dress shirt, so carefully packed that morning, were looking the worse for wear. 'There's nothing to do about that right now,' he thought as he plucked a slender rod of holly from his bag and tucked it into his bomber jacket pocket. The cab twisted and turned through rush hour London traffic for 20 minutes before coming to a halt on in front of the museum.
"Five pounds, forty pence, mate," the driver said.
"Cheers," Harry said, thrusting several pound notes into the driver's hand, "I appreciate it!"
Glancing at his windfall, the cabby thanked him and sped off to catch another fare while Harry sprinted up the steps towards a rather stern looking man in his late fifties.
"I'm so sorry, Dr. Elden-Winters," Harry said breathlessly as they walked into the building and down the stairs towards the Clore Education Centre. "I'd forgotten what a nightmare traveling into London on a sunny summer afternoon is like."
"It's all right, Harry, I've only just arrived myself. And please, call me Phillip – we're colleagues now!" Harry flushed a dull shade of red. "If you would like to freshen up a bit, the men's loo is next to the theatre."
Harry smiled graciously and hurried into the loo. Securely locking himself into one of the stalls, he hung up his rumbled suit and withdrew the holly rod from him pocket. With another nervous glance about, he muttered, "Creasius mendo". A soft shimmer of light emanated from the tip of the rod and within seconds his suit looked as though it had come straight from the cleaners. A half smile lit up his face as he shrugged out of his travel clothes and prepared to change. A second nervous glance and seconds later all traces of dirt and grime were gone from his cheeks and hands. "Fresh as a daisy," he said and swiftly changed into his suit, shirt and tie, emerging from the stall a new man. With the exception of his hair, of course – that was a hopeless task, even for the most powerful wizard of his age.
There were only a few people at Oxford that knew about Harry's secret – a well-placed letter from Professor McGonagall to the dean of students at Christchurch College had assured Harry a place within the college following his departure from Hogwarts. To most of the staff and students, rumor had it that Harry had been privately tutored most of his life, which suited him just fine. To his surprise and great delight, he was able to easily transfer his knowledge to the Muggle world and succeed with the vigorous curriculum offered at Christchurch. After the War, Harry wanted to remove himself as far from the wizarding world as possible. Given the loss of many of whom he held dear, including Dumbledore and Hagrid, Harry felt only time and distance would restore any interest he may have had in pursuing a career in the Ministry or playing Quidditch. If there was one thing about the wizarding world he missed, it was Quidditch. Well, one of many things he missed about the wizarding world.
An unwanted memory flashed in his mind as he gazed into the mirror. Amidst the rubble of the Great Hall, Voldemort lay dead in a smoldering heap less than three meters from where Harry held the limp and all-too-quiet body of his first mentor, Albus Dumbledore. That fateful day (later known throughout the wizarding world as The Fall of Voldemort) Dumbledore and Harry, the sole remaining Heirs of Gryffindor, used a spell unearthed in an ancient magical tome dating back to Merlin to destroy Voldemort once and for all. Unbeknownst to Harry, it required the sacrifice of one to increase the power of the other. Dumbledore unleashed his wealth of knowledge to Harry just as he was struck with the Avada Kadavra curse flung by Voldemort. The power of the curse lanced through Dumbledore, the edge of which struck Harry at the uppermost tip of his lightning bolt scar, searing his scalp. Months later, as the hair grew back, it was as white as snow. It became a constant reminder of the sacrifices made and friends lost, a reminder which, although easily remedied, Harry chose to carry with him for the remainder of his life.
Harry sighed as he glanced at himself in the mirror and adjusted his glasses. Now was not the time to dwell in the past. With an errant swipe of his hand through his hair, he exited the loo and joined Phillip in the CEC.
Late that night, an exhausted Harry walked up the steps to his friend's flat in Notting Hill. He had secured the sub-let for the rest of the summer and was looking forward to sinking into a hot tub with a pint of ale. The lecture had gone very well, considering he had had butterflies the size of Baby Norbert flapping around his stomach. He winced – another reminder of his losses. Hagrid's death had come early in the war, soon after his return from the giants. Harry had been inconsolable for weeks; after all, Hagrid was his first friend within the wizarding world – the one who had rescued him from his bleak existence with the Dursleys and revealer of a world full of wonder and possibilities. Hagrid's loyal hound, Fang, followed his master to the grave soon after – Hermione suspected he died of a broken heart. No one seemed to disagree.
He opened the door and noticed movement near one of the windows. With instincts borne from years of fighting against Death Eaters, he dropped his bag, closed the door and removed his wand in one smooth movement. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he crept towards the window, prepared for anything. Just then, the flash of a snowy white wing re-appeared and Harry let out the breath he was holding. Hedwig.
While his mates in college thought he was mad (he chose to use the term "eccentric"), Harry kept and cared for his beloved Hedwig throughout his time at Christchurch. Although they had been together for over sixteen years, she was still in splendid condition thanks to Harry's care and affection. While he considered her to be in semi-retirement, she seemed to be a bit put out by his lack of need for her mail delivering services. To keep the peace, he would occasionally send her with a note to Professor McGonagall and Sirius, just to keep her in shape. He smiled ruefully – leave it to Hedwig to find him the minute he walked in the door of a new residence. Opening the sash, she flew into the room and landed gracefully on the back of the living room armchair.
"Hello, girl," he said, stroking her under her beak while she closed her eyes in what was undoubtedly a look of sheer contentment. "It's always so good to see you! How was Professor McGonagall?"
Hedwig clicked her bill and held out her leg – she was carrying a letter. Harry carried her into the kitchen and, untying the letter from her leg, setting her down onto one of the kitchen chairs.
"Your perch will be here tomorrow, girl," he reassured her, handing her an owl treat retrieved from his duffle bag. He shrugged off his suit coat, loosened his tie and, recovering a bottle of Harp from the refrigerator, poured himself a pint before turning on the radio and settling in to read his letter.
"I was so pleased to hear about your graduation from Oxford in June. You worked very hard to complete your degrees in record time and no one is more deserving of the accolades you have received. Remus and Sirius gave me all of the details and said your final marks were nothing short of brilliant. I am sorry I missed the ceremony, however, as you know, we were right in the midst of final exams and I could not get away even for an afternoon. Percy Weasley's young sons (Gryffindors, about to enter their second year) are taking over for their uncles in the prank department and have come up with some unbelievable misadventures. It does not help that they have access to some of the most cutting-edge tricks, courtesy of their uncles' thriving business."
Harry grinned. Sirius, despite Harry's muttered commentary about not caring to hear news from the wizarding world, always kept him abreast of the happenings with the Weasley family. He had learned that Fred and George opened their Weasley Wizarding Wheezes shop in Hogsmeade soon after the war was over and were doing so well they were looking to expand that shop, in addition to opening a branch in Diagon Alley. Taking a sip of ale, he leaned back onto the rear legs of the chair and continued with his letter.
"With your graduation, I believe it is time for me to ask you a question that has been weighing on my mind for several years. Would you be interested in returning to Hogwarts as a professor, Harry?"
There was a loud crash as Harry's precarious perch on the chair toppled. Ale sailed everywhere, including his dress shirt and trousers, the glass shattering as it hit the floor. Hedwig screeched and fluttered into the dining room, chattering furiously at being awoken from her doze. Rubbing his head, he cursed under his breath as he righted the chair and, picking up his wand, muttered several spells to clean up the broken glass and spilt beer. He balled up his shirt and threw it onto the floor next to his duffle bag while he retrieved the faded rugby top he had worn earlier in the day. He stood and turned his attention to the letter, still lying on the floor where it landed, blessedly devoid of any smudges or smears.
‘Of all the bloody nerve,' he thought, beginning to pace up and down the dining room, Hedwig continuing to scold him all the while. "How could she ask me that, Hedwig?! How could she, knowing that being back at that place would bring back memories of things I never want to recall again? Dumbledore lying broken and bloody in my arms. Sirius almost blinded. Hermione comatose for a month. And Gin…." He stopped, the most painful memory of them all crashing into his consciousness like a wraith. He'd begged her to come with him, to leave that place and start a new life with him, away from the death and chaos. Tears, anger, despair and, finally, refusal. Her decision had left him feeling bereft as nothing else had, prior to or since.
He sniffed, realizing there were tears flowing down his cheeks. Angrily, he swiped them away and snatched the letter from the floor. Intent on flinging it into the fireplace, he grabbed his wand and shouted, "Incendio!" into the hearth, the wood roaring to crackling life. A split second before he flung the parchment into the fire, Hedwig swooped down and grabbed it from his hand with her talons, landing on the coffee table and snapping her beak.
He looked at her in shocked surprise. "What are you playing at, you silly bird?"
Hedwig squawked and proceeded to give him what had to be an owlish dressing down the likes of which he'd never experienced before.
He shook his head and uttered a watery chuckle. "Stop it, for God's sake…being lectured by a bloody owl."
She stopped her tirade and looked at him sternly, just as he imagined Professor McGonagall would do if she were in the room.
Arching a brow, he gingerly retrieved the letter from Hedwig's grasp and, taking a deep breath, continued where he left off.
"I realize my asking this of you will come as a bit of a shock, but please consider before you reject this opportunity out of hand. As you will recall, with Professor Sinistra's passing mid term, Remus has been acting as Astronomy and Defense against the Dark Arts professor. Given his ailment, this is too much for him to take on. While Sirius was approached to assume the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, he received the appointment to assume command of the Aurors and the MLES by Minister Weasley only this morning (please do not tell him I told you this – I believe he wishes to tell you himself as soon as he can locate you). Finally, Madam Hooch has chosen to retire before the start of next term, owing to a rather nasty encounter with a Bludger.
"Your successes at Oxford could not have happened without the experiences you had here at Hogwarts. Granted, those last days and weeks before the Fall were dark – the darkest days this institution has ever experienced – and your involvement in those days and weeks was prolonged, intense and emotional. However, things have changed within the wizarding world since you left. Many of those changes would not have been possible without you and those whom you have loved and lost. Your experiences defending our world against the Darkness, and Dumbledore's last gift, have made you the most powerful wizard of alive. You know this.
"The time has come for all of us to move forward, Harry. By doing so, we honor those who fought for the future of our world. We, both myself and deputy headmaster Snape, are pleased to offer you the position as Professor of Astronomy and Master of Flight. If you are interested, please send your response via Hedwig as soon as possible. As you know, term begins on 1 September and we haven't a moment to lose in preparation.
"Before he died, Albus once told me that he would be honored to teach beside you one day. I believe he knew then such a future was not written in the stars. I know in my heart he would be thrilled if you returned to the place you once loved above all others, to share what you have learned with future generations of our world. It is my hope that we can make that dream become a reality. Wishing you all the best, always, I remain,
Professor Minerva McGonagall
Headmistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry"
Staggered for the second time in an evening, Harry sank onto the couch. The firelight reflected in eyes uncertain, yet more than a little amazed. They were offering him a position as a professor at Hogwarts? His brain began thinking of the possibilities – the background of Astronomy within the magical realm of Hogwarts. He re-read the letter twice more before resuming his musings. He was being given the opportunity to do the two things he loved: astronomy and flying. Was McGonagall right? Was it time to move on? His memories of the past clashed with the possibilities for the future until, heart-sore, he tipped his eyeglasses onto his forehead and rubbed his weary eyes.
Shifting them back into place, he checked the clock on the mantelpiece; it was close to midnight. With a glance at Hedwig, he reached into his duffle bag and pulled out a test tube filled with dust. Taking a pinch between his fingers, he tossed it into the fire and shouted, "Sirius Black!"
Author's Notes: All hail JK Rowling and her brilliance! I thank her for creating such an amazing universe and ask her forgiveness, well in advance, for anything I do to her beloved characters. Many thanks to my beta, Ahmie, my new writer-pal Aibhinn, my darling husband Bill and friend Robin for their encouragement and pre-beta beta-ing, my buds on WCs HP thread and, finally, for Henrietta at British Tours, whose amazing gift of history and fancy helped to feed the plot bunny lurking in the right side of my brain. Thank you for the lovely day in Oxford and Gloucester!